NPR’s Talk of the Nation conversation today on Gerald Ford’s life and presidency brought Watergate and its aftermath to mind. Though I hated Nixon as much as the next left-wing hippie student radical, looking back on him one notices that on domestic policy he was extremely moderate (even liberal) compared to the gang that came in when Ronald Regan defeated Ford for the Republican nomination.
A fact that has received only minor notice among the eulogies (he appears to have been a quite decent person) is that Gerald Ford was a member of the Warren Commission on the assignation of JFK. For those who believe that commission engineered a cover up (which I personally think unlikely), Ford’s having been “in on the secret” was a powerful factor in his selection as Vice President when Spiro Agnew resigned. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Commission.
To my mind, Ford’s presidency, and the right-wing Republican opposition to him, was the opening battle in war between two factions of the American elite. This story was first told by Carl Oglesby in his extraordinarily prescient 1976 book, The Yankee and Cowboy War, which described the coming power struggle between the old-money Eastern Establishment ruling class and the upstart the new-money oil/real-estate/aerospace ruling class of the South and West. The book was mostly about an interpretation of Dallas and Watergate that saw the old-money Republicans helping to reveal the truth about Watergate to bring the first president loyal to the up-start faction down.
I tend to be a disbeliever in conspiracies on the pragmatic grounds that anyone who has ever worked in a large organization knows how hard it is to keep people focused on an overt mission. In any event, The Yankee Cowboy War happened, the Cowboys won, and the scion of the relatively old-money Bush family needed to move to Texas and pretend to be a Cowboy if he were to have a chance of succeeding his father.
So two cheers for Gerald Ford: one for going to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and calling for an amnesty for draft-dodges, and a second for doing what he could to fight off the Cowboys, even if hhe had to pardon Nixon to try to placate them.